Working on how to talk to your spouse about difficult issues is a task that belongs to both of you

No relationship or marriage is perfect, but learning how to improve your communication skills can go a long way toward make sure you’re building a healthy foundation on which your love can last a lifetime.

Of course, while falling in love is exciting, it can also be nerve-racking.

Thanks to all those hormones stimulated by the churning of lust, attraction and attachment, couples in the falling-in-love stage of relationships may not be, shall we say, fully grounded yet.

If you are still in that airborne state, you may have convinced yourself that you can talk to your new love about anything. The possibility that you could one day end up not knowing how to talk to your spouse about difficult issues probably isn’t anywhere on your radar.

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But it should be.

Psychologists agree that having ‘the talk’ before marriage can have a huge impact on the future of your relationship, and making an effort to develop more effective communication skills can prevent a future split.

Not only is it important to broach and wrestle with sensitive, often divisive topics, but it’s just as important to better understand they way in which you do so as individuals and as a couple.

Ask yourselves the following questions:

  • What is your communication style, especially during conflicts with your partner?
  • How do you each typically attempt to reach resolution?
  • How, if at all, do you come from the starting place of your individual beliefs and opinions to reach a workable, mutually beneficial solution?

Knowing how to talk to your spouse effectively about difficult issues isn’t something that simply happens in the moment. Maintaining a healthy marriage takes more than winging it; it’s something that evolves, ideally, out of a shared history of braving the big, bad and ugly stuff while still basking in that ‘we’re destined to be together’ rush of hormones.

Perhaps you had the foresight to dig into difficult topics early on. Or perhaps you waited until problems arose, lingered unspoken, and wreaked havoc with your love.

Either way, you can improve your relationship and fall in love all over again by following some simple tips and advice.

Topics like money, sex, children, monogamy and even what you don’t like about your spouse are not easy topics to tackle

Here are six ways to improve your communication skills, resolve conflict and be happier in your marriage:

1. Don’t put off difficult conversations

If there is something important on your mind, take the initiative to invite your spouse into a conversation. Expecting your spouse to do all the initiating will only lead to resentment on your part. It will also decrease your chances of getting the outcome you want.

Working on how to talk to your spouse about difficult issues is a task that belongs to both of you. When you embrace the responsibility equally, you help to equalise the power in your relationship. You also increase the likelihood that you will both get your needs met.

2. Be honest about your expectations

The big marital talks can be understandably stressful. Negative emotions like anger and resentment may lurk too close for comfort, especially if one spouse perceives a hurtful agenda from the other.

How you enter into a difficult conversation can make all the difference in how you come out of it.

Do you expect it to go well? Do you expect to have an open, safe dialogue that helps you know, and ultimately love, your spouse better? What do you expect to get out of the conversation?

Is this about coming to an agreement about how to compromise on very different approaches to money management? Or is this a confrontation in an effort to get the truth about a suspected betrayal?

Spending time with your own expectations upfront will help you stay focused if the conversation starts to stray off-topic or get uncomfortable.

3. Set yourselves, and your marriage, up to succeed

If you are worried about how to talk to your spouse about difficult issues, take the dread out of the talk. We all know how awful it feels when someone says, “Can we talk?”

We can’t help the worry and presumptions that make us imagine the worst until we know what the talk is about.

And we all know how defeating it is when someone chooses the wrong time and place for ‘the talk’. Choose a time when neither of you is rushing, stressed or tired. If you have children, consider waiting until they are asleep or out of the house.

If you are the one initiating the talk, give your spouse a heads-up on the topic. Avoid the “We need to talk” approach. Think about it. There’s nothing about that intro that would make you eager to show up if you were on the receiving end of it.

Express an interest in your spouse’s thoughts on the topic. Or say something like, “I’ve been thinking about (whatever) and I would like to explore that with you. Can we make some time in the next day or two to sit down together and work on some solutions?”

Obviously, there are topics that may not be so easy to introduce. But, at least you can give your marriage the advantage of a comfortable, private, quiet place and a respectful time.

4. Treat each other, and your relationship, with respect

Topics like money, sex, children, monogamy and even what you don’t like about your spouse are not easy topics to tackle. There is the potential for hurt feelings. There is also the chance that one or both of you might not like what you hear or get the outcome you want.

That’s why it is especially important that you practice self-control, healthy boundaries and uncompromising respect.

Remember why you are doing this in the first place. You are invested in each other and in your marriage. Even if you and your spouse have different viewpoints, feelings or desired outcomes, you should always reaffirm your marriage.

Simple disciplines like using ‘I’ statements instead of ‘you’ statements can prevent the perception of blame and the defensiveness that follows.

Watch your body language and make sure you are not delivering any passive-aggressive messages with your posture or expressions.

How you enter into a difficult conversation can make all the difference in how you come out of it

5. Avoid ultimatums

Ultimatums come across as threats or power plays, and the response is likely to be anger, defensiveness or a challenge on the follow-through.

Ultimatums can also create distrust in a relationship, especially if the one who delivers them doesn’t go through with them.

6. Know when to get help

You and your spouse may do well in the majority of your communication. But there are usually areas in even the best marriages where sensitivity is simply too high for an effective conversation.

Knowing how to recognise those times is part of knowing how to talk to your spouse about difficult issues.

Working with a husband-wife therapist team can be a highly effective way to safely navigate those ‘don’t touch’ topics. In addition to providing gender balance, the therapist team will prioritise your marriage over any individual desires or expectations.

Diving into the tough topics of what makes a good marriage is never fun

Chances are you weren’t given a premarital education in how to talk to your spouse about difficult issues.

But the willingness to do so with assertiveness, self-control and integrity makes a huge statement about how you value your relationship.

Those conversations may be stressful and hackle-raising, but they can also raise your confidence that you and your spouse can get through anything.

Dr. Jerry Duberstein and his partner, Mary Ellen Goggin, offer private couples retreats, couples counselling and coaching via telephone, Skype, or in person in the quaint sea port of Portsmouth, NH. To learn more, schedule a 1/2 hour complimentary consultation.

This article was originally published at The Free & Connected blog. Reprinted with permission from YourTango.